Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Contemplative Christianity

When I say that the tone in the church has changed over the past twenty years or so, what I mean is that today's church seems to really value a contemplative type of Christianity. 

It's a low-key, quiet, introspective kind of Christianity that places a high emphasis on looking into your own heart, doing things in subtle, but powerful ways, and generally being very even-keeled about everything. It's so introspective and quietly emotional that it comes off as almost solemn; it's a lights-dimmed-low kind of Christianity. 

Even when we sing a song these days about, say, "the goodness of God," we do it in a very intentional, slightly slow, meter where we just sort of sink into ourselves, sway a little bit, raise one hand, and whisper yes in our souls. And this is the way that we are expected to worship. 

It's strange to me that we spent all of this money in the past 15 years or so on big screens and concert lighting and even smoke machines, and here we are now, with most churches tempering themselves, tamping down their worship some into this more solemn, reflective, contemplative space. We still use the lights we bought, but we tone them down. The sound system volume has dropped considerably so that it's "comfortable" for everyone. The overhead lights are dimmed; the windows sometimes blacked out. And here we are, standing and swaying and whispering, yes

In some ways, I think part of this is a response to the public image that what we call "charismatic" Christianity has created in our broader culture. We've seen so much backlash against the revival-type, praise-healing claims that some churches make, and we want to make clear that Jesus - at least, the Jesus we worship, is not like that. But I don't think this response is the bulk of what we're doing. 

What it is, I think, is that we're all aching for a slower life. We're trying to find a sacred rhythm somewhere in our 24/7 world. We're trying to create a place where we can come and just slow down for awhile, just settle in and listen to our own souls. Indeed, I think what Christianity has lost in the past 50 or 60 years is the soul as it slowly slips away into facades of all sorts of things. What we think church means. What we think life means. What we think work means. Whatever. 

I think we're trying to reclaim that very essential part of our being, and by today's definitions, the soul is that sacred, solemn place that connects deeply to things. Where deep waters run. It's this place that is supposed to be, we suppose, untouchable, unshaken by this world. This rock solid anchor somewhere deep within us. 

And we have to be quiet to hear it. We have to be still to hear it. We have to tiptoe toward it so that we can get close enough to touch it. Our soul, we've been convinced, is this quiet, fragile, but somehow, completely strong place and there's a sense in us that if we're not careful with it, we'll break it, but at the same time, every time we draw near to it, we realize how important it is in establishing us, in holding us up. It is strong, but it is dangerous, perhaps. 

So we get into this solemn space and we call it holy. And it is. Don't get me wrong - it's holy. 

But it's missing something. 

Putting this kind of emphasis in our worship has drawn us toward something amazing, but it's also drawn us away from something important. 

More on that tomorrow. 

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